Hoopoe (Upupa epops, Coraciformes) males produce a very simple song during the breeding season in order to attract females and repel intruders. Strophes vary in length (i.e. number of elements) both within and between males, and previous studies have shown that this song cue is positively correlated with male condition and breeding success. In the present study we tested whether strophe length of males influences male behaviour during intra-sexual contests, in a colour-ringed population in southeast Spain. Paired males were presented with a recorded song with long strophes during the pre-laying period, while they were near their mates, in order to provoke male mate-defence behaviour. Most males responded to the playback, but the strategy of defence adopted depended on their own strophe length in spontaneous songs recorded before the experiments. While singing responses were common to most of the males, only those using long strophes adopted the most risky strategy of approaching the loudspeaker. However, the males that approached produced abnormal songs during playback, that were shorter and with fewer strophes than those of males that did not approach, and used shorter strophes in comparison with spontaneous songs before the experiment. These differences in quality of the song produced in response to the playback suggest that long-strophe males were basing their response mainly on attacking rather than singing, while short-strophe males tried to resolve the contest at a distance by means of their song. These results show that strophe length reflects some component of the competitive ability of males (either physical strength or aggressiveness) in the hoopoe, which together with previous results regarding its role for female choice, show that it is a sexual signal with dual function.